Day 3: So with that first issue done, I basically started hitting the convention circuit in California, traveling up and down the coast when (day job) time permitted. I also made the scenes around Los Angeles, soliciting comic shops and independent bookstores (usually the type that dealt with Latino-related material). Since mine was a photocopied book, I even searched out zine & mini-comics event, as I definitely had the DIY aesthetic. Also, with a concept like El Muerto, I exhibited at the various Day of the Dead festivals throughout town, as well as other cultural events. From the first day I knew I would seek out Latino audiences, figuring they would appreciate a culturally-themed character from a Latino creator. This was back in the late 90s, and there was a small movement of Mexican-American creators, as well as other Latino groups, publishing books featuring Latino characters.
In Texas there was Richard Dominguez (El Gato Negro), and along the West Coast such folks as Carlos Saldaña (Burrito), Fernando Rodriguez (Aztec of the City), Laura Molina (Jaguar), Rhode Montijo (Pablo's Inferno) and Rafael Navarro (Sonambulo), among others, were branching out and making their path in the independent comics world. Plus there were others across the country doing the same thing. It was an exciting time to be making comics. It was in this environment, amongst these pioneering artists, that I found camaraderie.
I did a second printing of THE NUMERO EDITION, about 150 more copies, if my memory serves me right. In addition to that (and instead of jumping back to the continuing saga of El Muerto!) I went off and made some other comics. What happens to me, and this you'll see occur throughout the next 16 years, is that I can get an idea in my head that won't rest until I put it in comic book form. One was an autobiographic story called DOS MIL (2000) and the other was a spin-off idea of my character called.... Manga Muerto. Basically taking the giant robot genre from Japan and mashing it up with El Muerto. I'll delve more into that little enterprise in the upcoming days, trust me. It was also during this time, Summer of 2001, that I did an interview with NPR during the San Diego Comic Con that would later go on to have a significant impact on my career (and that'll be covered in my upcoming posts about the El Muerto movie!).
Remember my day job as an art production employee at the screenprinting company? It had evolved in being promoted to Art Director. That meant leaving behind the retail world, and getting a decent paying career in art. It also meant a lot overtime hours, and eventually some sporadic weekends. It was actually getting stressful in the last two years or so. Won't go into all the details, but our workload increased, meaning my responsibilities increased. All that translates into a trip to the doctor to find out I had high blood pressure! Pretty much things got shaky with the management. For the better, because that place was killing me and it was time to decide to get the heck out of there...
That brings us to 2002. It was also time for me to level up from photocopied comics and get my book printed through an offset printer, which would include a glossy cover and larger print run. Eventually my goal was to try to get the book carried in comic book stores by Diamond Distributors, the national comics distributor. One thing about making that Art Director money meant having the means to pay for such a print. I found a local printer, China Times Press, who specialized in newspapers and printing for the local Asian communities. But it was only a matter of showing them samples of comic books so they could quote me a price.
And so with a few extras features and all new covers, and an $1800 printing bill, I reprinted the first Muerto story in a new package, KING SIZE EL MUERTO #1. The book was also accepted and carried by Diamond Distributors, which meant comic shops across the land carried it. The orders for that book weren't over 1000, but it was a big deal for me back then. Here's the cover, and the back cover which featured a painting from my friend & fellow cartoonist Rhode Montijo, as well as a few interior pages:
With this new package, I spent the later half of 2002 once again making the rounds, hitting the convention circuit, finding new places to sell to, new fans to make. And having quit my Art Director job over the summer, I was completely re-energized and ready to rock and roll!
At some point in late 2002 or early 2003, I took a part-time job at a local comic book shop run by my friend John Franco. It was a way to keep a little steady money coming in, but also proved to be an interesting look into another facet of the comics biz, the retail side. I really liked working there, as it was a pretty low-key job but I was surrounded by comics and was able to chat with comic fans. Eventually though, I got a more stable job. Interesting enough, it was another stint as a production artist for a local screenprinting company, but this time I would stick to the relatively sedate position and avoid any management role! I wanted to put in my 40 hours a week, punch out at the time clock and not worry about overtime or weekends or fighting with the higher ups.
The next issue of El Muerto turned out to be an anthology featuring a new chapter in the story of our hero Diego, reprints of my auto-biographic comic DOS MIL and the first Manga Muerto story, and also a fun little 2 page featuring martians. The title for this one was obvious (to me, at least!). The back cover featured a painting by another friend and fellow cartoonist of mine, Ted Seko. Pinups included work by AXE COP co-creator Ethan Nicolle (bottom image in this group). From 2004, I present to you:
Like the KING SIZE special, EL MUERTO MISH MASH was also printed by China Times Press. Another 3000 copies, another $1800. Only this time, it wasn't carried by Diamond. Their form letter had two categories checked off on their decision to not carry this book. One was that there was too much time between the publication of each issue. The other was that the artwork was not up to their standards. Okay, I can't argue the time lag between issues. It is what it is. The art issue? Well, it was drawn by the same guy who did the first book that you guys carried...
Anyway, I didn't bother to plead my case to Diamond. I took the letter, placed it back inside the envelope and slipped it in a drawer. I told myself right there and then: Let's see how much of a setback this is. Let's see if I continue, move forward, and don't quit because the sole distributor in the industry doesn't carry me. Let's save this little piece of paper they sent me.That was back in 2004...
Tomorrow, more Muerto comics, more twists and turns!
El Muerto and all related characters ™ & © Javier Hernandez 1998-2015